Then and in between now

Maria Konstanse Bruun

2010 - 2018

These photographs are part of a personal project about my mum, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when I was five years old. A few years ago, my mum's physical health started to deteriorate, which meant she gradually became more physically disabled. Due to the nature of her mental illness she refused to accept the appropriate medical investigation, until she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in May 2018. These photographs are portraying my mum's increasing struggle with physical illness and disability, on top of the mental illness that had been a lifelong struggle for her. Since learning that my mum was terminally ill, photographing her became even more important to me. Besides having memories of her and her life for my personal future records, it got me closer to her and her narrative of reality, which increased my understanding and respect for her struggle.

Part of her sadness in life was the feeling of not being understood by the rest of the world, which I can imagine must be similar for many people who suffer from a personality disorder. With paranoid schizophrenia in particular, the logics of social interactions often aren't the same as for other people, which can make communication with others challenging. As a consequence, my mum didn’t trust the medical staff enough to take any of the medication or pain killers that was prescribed to her, or even the diagnosis she was given. This caused her a lot of suffering the last few months of her life, which was difficult for me to accept. My mum passed away on the 3rd of November 2018.

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  • My mum always wanted to present the best version of herself to others. When her hair started turning grey, she began wearing wigs for her looks to be more in line with how she saw herself. Me and my sisters often had to go wig shopping for her. In the end she had a good selection of all types of hair styles and colours. Here is one of her favourite wigs resting on her floral sofa bed in the nursing home where she spent her final year.

  • In this portrait I captured my mum in natural sunlight in front of a sunny window in her previous home. This was taken before she was diagnosed with cancer, but looking at it now, it is clear to me that she wasn't physically well. I like this portrait because of her eyes, to me it portrays some of the disconnect between te person who she felt she was, and the version of her that the outside world saw.

  • This photograph of my mum's feet on the floor shows how important it was for her to look her best. Despite all the challenges related to her physical disability and being confined to a wheelchair, she went through the struggle of painting her toenails red in the summer.

  • My mum comes from a small town in Norway. Both before and after she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, she was a known figure in town. Before she became ill, she was known for being physically attractive and talented within academics, sports, and arts. After becoming ill, she more than ever, kept pride in her looks, often dressing up more youthful and colourful than others her age.

  • Studying to become a teacher in her younger days and becoming religious in her older days, this books shelf sums up my mum. She never stopped seeing herself as the person she was known to be in her youngers years. She kept all her books and notes from her days of studying adn the bible was always on her table.

  • I once asked my mum what her best memories in life was, and she answered that it was memories of summer, when everything was in bloom. Her favourite flower was the Oxeye Daisy, which grows wild in the country side of Norway in the summer. When the oxeye daisies were out of season I bought my mum a Chrysanthemum plant, which resembled the oxeye daisies. Her first instinct whenever she received a plant or cut flowers was always to smell them.

  • At the nursing home where my mum spent her final year, they had a sensory garden where they kept chickens over the summer months. My mum loved to go down there and feed an talk to the chickens.

  • Visits from her grandchildren, my son and daugther, was uplifting moments for my mum and served as a distraction from her self and her own worries.

  • Visits from her grandchildren, my son and daugther, was uplifting moments for my mum and served as a distraction from her self and her own worries.

  • Despite being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer that had spread to her bones, my mum rarely accepted any help from the staff at the nursing home, where she spent her final year. Everyday routines, such as taking a shower, became increasingly more labour-some. My mum never stopped seeing herself as the strong and athletically talented person she was known to be in her younger days and refused any help that was offered to her.

  • Due to the nature of my mum's mental illness and her view on reality, she was struggling to trust anyone other than my sisters and me, her children. She refused to take morphine or any other painkillers that was recommended and offered to her, until the last few weeks. It was hard for us to watch her so consumed by all the pain. In the end it was as if her body became a prison.

  • Two important belongings of my mum; the chest with traditional Norwegian rose paint decoration with her name in-scripted on it, which was a gift from my dad when they got married, and her radio and cd player. My mum was the only one who managed to get this radio/cd player to work.

  • Music has always been a very important part of my mum's life. Listening to music gave her a lot of comfort and often served as a distraction for her from a busy mind and through difficult times. This portrait captured my mum viewing some photos of her grand children and listening to a piece of classical music on the radio while waiting for her hair dye to finish.

  • My mum was not afraid to dress up in bright colours. I love the colour combination in this photograph, the red hair clips and the blue jumper. She is captured on the balcony at the nursing home,looking out on to the neighbouring houses. She spent many hours on this balcony smoking her roll ups, no matter how cold it was outside. Ironically, I think her addiction to cigarettes kept her going, physically, longer than if she didn't have that motivation to get out of her bed and out of her room.

  • The reflection of my mum sleeping in the mirror next to a replica of the Amedeo Modigliani painting "portrait of a young woman". This portrait meant a lot to my mum and came with her wherever she moved to, in her adult life. Once she told me the portrait was of her. There is something about the vulnerability of the young woman in the portrait, being partly exposed, that I can imagine my mum could relate to.

  • This is one of the few photos of my mum where I think my she looks like an old lady. Most of the wigs that she wore made her look more youthful, but this grey wig made her look older. Youth was important to her. She didn’t accept her signs of aging and often said that someone else had put the wrinkles in her face to make her look older than she was. The fear of aging is something that many of us can recognise, my mum's way of dealing with it, and avoid accepting the truth, was to proect the responsibility of her aging body to someone else. Looking back, I see it as a natural cause of a lifelong feeling of not being in control of her own life; being sectioned and institutionalised against her will, losing her family and the feeling of not being understood by most people.

  • I find this portrait really beautiful; I can see what seems to be a tear in the corner of my mum's eye while she was sleeping. She looks a lot like my grandparents, her parents, before they died. Which I find fascinating; that at some point before she died her body was stripped down to take on a physical likeness to both of her parents who passed away many years ago.

  • During my mum's final days this scene of dead flies on the floor in the farmhouse where I grew spoke to me about the ephemral nature of life. Reminding me that my mum would soon be gone.

  • This is the last photograph I took of my mum alive. The pain she experienced in the last weeks of her life prevented her from getting much rest. I felt a great relief every time I saw her sleeping, all though it wasn’t more than an hour or so at the time. Here she is resting on the bed in the evening, after one of my visits.

  • I photographed my mum's hands in her coffin upon our last visit to see her before the funeral.